Some Thoughts on My Daughter’s High School Graduation: Go...

Last week, my daughter graduated from high school. It was a bittersweet afternoon.

Happy, because it'€™s satisfying to think of the work that she'€™s done, sweet because it'€™s great to see the friends she'€™s made, and exciting to see her move forward. (Like that old joke, '€œThat'€™s why they call it a Commencement.'€)

Sad, because this ceremony marks an end. This time in her life, and in my life too, has come to a close. I always feel a sense of loss when things come to their end (even things I want to end).

During the ceremony, the school crest was projected on a giant screen above the graduates'€™ heads, and I got to thinking about the school motto.

I love maxims, proverbs, manifestos, mantras, teaching stories — anything that crams a big idea into a small space — and I'€™ve always been fascinated by school mottoes.

The motto of my high school was '€œFreedom with responsibility.'€ We talked about it often in school, and I still think of it, to this day. It'€™s a great motto for anyone, it'€™s a great motto for the United States, it'€™s thought-provoking and transcendent.

My daughter'€™s school takes a different angle on the school motto — it'€™s  '€œGo forth unafraid.'€

As with my high school, the school talks about this motto often. Teachers lecture about  it, kids joke about it, it'€™s prominently displayed throughout the school.  It'€™s part of the school song: '€œWe go forth unafraid/Strong with love and strong with learning'€¦'€ It'€™s deeply embedded in the school culture.

For instance, the seniors have a tradition of the end-of-year '€œCount Down'€ celebration: as kids from younger grades look on admiringly, the seniors gather in the Senior Lounge with a big digital clock, and count down together to their final 3:15 p.m. dismissal time. I watched a video, and saw that as the last seconds slipped by, the seniors broke into the school song, and as 3:15 started to flash, they were all singing its last line at the top of their lungs: '€œHere we have learned to go forth unafraid.'€

I'€™ve always loved this motto, and it never struck me more forcefully than during the graduation ceremony.

It prompted me to recall my daughter'€™s very first day of pre-school. As I stood in the corridor  with the other parents, all of us struggling to say good-bye to our children, the head of the school said to me gently, '€œThis is the first of many times that you will say good-bye to your child.'€

And as hard as it was to let my three-year-old daughter walk through that brightly decorated door, I was so happy when she marched ahead, interested and eager, to explore her new classroom.

And as I sat in the audience and watched all the seniors receive their diplomas, I thought, '€œAs hard as it is to see this time come to an end, I'€™m happy, too, and what I want most for my daughter and all these kids is for them to go forth unafraid, strong with love and strong with learning.'€

And as I sat in the audience, and searched for my daughter'€™s mortarboarded head among the crowd onstage, I recalled that three-year-old girl going to school for the very first time '€” and remembered something else from those days.

Back then, she and I rode the bus to school, and I wrote a little video story about that bus ride, called '€œThe Years Are Short.'€ Of everything I'€™ve ever written, this one-minute video has resonated most with people, and its truth, for me, has never struck me more forcefully. In my daughter'€™s childhood, some days seemed interminable, but the years have passed in a flash.

That three-year-old pre-schooler has become an eighteen-year-old high school graduate.


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